Hebrew, Perl and a License Hell

Three months ago Gal-Gur Arie asked me to package a Perl module named Locale::Hebrew. The goal is to enable Hebrew support in xmltv which uses a Perl script to pull the Israeli TV schedule. See #432748.

Gal’s request falls under my Debian Hebrew category, otherwise I would refer his request to the Debian Perl Group.

I started to work on the package, and reached the part of creating the debian/copyright file. In the Perl code, everything was OK, as it’s licensed under the Artistic License. But then I notice a bidi.c file with the following “license”:

Source code in this file and the header file may be distributed free of charge by anyone, as long as full credit is given and any and all liabilities are assumed by the recipient.

But it also had this:

Copyright (C) 1999, ASMUS, Inc. All Rights Reserved

As the “license” isn’t free, and the previous line pretty much makes that clear, I couldn’t upload the package to the archive. Maybe to non-free but I prefer that would be my last option.

I was able to contact the copyright holders, and ask for clearing the license. Preferably with re-licensing the code with the GPL or other OSI approved license. Asmus Freytag answered me that there’s an updated version of the file in unicode.org with a proper references to a license, and suggested that I should check if it that’s OK for me.

That license isn’t a free software license, but has en exclusion clause for certain files:

Permission is hereby granted, free of charge, to any person obtaining a copy of the Unicode data files and any associated documentation (the “Data Files”) or Unicode software and any associated documentation (the “Software”) to deal in the Data Files or Software without restriction, including without limitation the rights to use, copy, modify, merge, publish, distribute, and/or sell copies of the Data Files or Software, and to permit persons to whom the Data Files or Software are furnished to do so, provided that (a) the above copyright notice(s) and this permission notice appear with all copies of the Data Files or Software, (b) both the above copyright notice(s) and this permission notice appear in associated documentation, and (c) there is clear notice in each modified Data File or in the Software as well as in the documentation associated with the Data File(s) or Software that the data or software has been modified.

To me, this seems free according to the DFSG. So I got a second opinion at debian-legal just to be sure.

Well, now that the licensing issues are over, I needed to check that the software can work with the new bidi.c file. Audrey Tang (the original upstream) was kind enough to help with the testing, but here tests showed that too much have changed in the new bidi.c file, and the program doesn’t build correctly. So I’m back in square one…

I got back to Asmus Freytag for a license change, this time asking for the unicode.org license. Asmus didn’t approve my request, and referred me to unicode.org for an answer. Full correspondence is available in the liblocale-hebrew-perl’s ITP.

The problem is that I can’t be sure the file originated at unicode.org, as there isn’t any reference to them. And anyway, any license change should be done by Asmus Inc. and not unicode.org.

Any one with contacts in Unicode, Inc. ?

The best solution would probably be writing a Perl bindings around libfribidi as was done for Python. The problem is that I don’t have a volunteer for that. Bummer.


Filed under Debian GNU/Linux, Free software licenses

2 responses to “Hebrew, Perl and a License Hell

  1. I wonder what can change in the bidi algorithm to break the software ? Maybe it can be fixed ? I might be able to have a look if you have tests not requiring me to understand Hebrew ? 😉

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